Gordon by Mathew Brady Studio, 1863.
Martin Robinson Delany by Unidentified Artist, c. 1865.
Robert Smalls by Unidentified Artist.
Sojourner Truth by Mathew Brady Studio, c. 1864.
Between two rooms dedicated to the Civil War on the first floor of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, there lies a nook. Tucked within this nook is the gallery’s new exhibition, “Bound for Freedom’s Light: African Americans and the Civil War,” a display that commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The showcase runs through March 2, 2014, and covers the war from its opening days to the surrender of Richmond, says Ann Shumard, the museum’s curator of photographs. It features vintage pictures, drawings by artists who witnessed wartime events, and historic documents such as newspaper articles from Harper’s Weekly.
The portraits—which vary from small, black-and-white photographs to large, colorful chromolithographs—represent well-known pioneers such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. But the beauty of this exhibition can be found in its lesser-known images, like one of Robert Smalls, the South Carolina bondsman who took control of a Confederate ship and delivered it safely to the Union, thereby freeing himself and his family. And Abraham, the man enslaved by Confederate soldiers who, during an explosion, was blasted into the air and landed unharmed in Union territory, where he remained and found work.
Shumard believes these “human-scale stories” will give visitors a better understanding of the war, especially with regard to the fact that black Americans also fought for the country. “It’s great to be able to open a show like this during Black History Month, but the Portrait Gallery focuses on [black history] year round,” she says.
In addition to the main exhibit, check out “The Black List” through April 22, which features images of 50 African-Americans who are dynamic and influential in the fields of politics, music, and beyond. Eighth and F Sts. NW, 202-633-8300